Back in January, BET premiered a three part miniseries on the life and times of one of the greatest R&B groups of all time, New Edition. It was one of the greatest television biopics ever produced on a musical act. The biopic chronicled just how Bobby Brown was fired from the group and eventually replaced by Johnny Gill. When New Edition’s album “Heart Break” was released in June of 1988, not only was the group in transition, it was at a crossroads career wise. This album would be crucial in either extending their run as a big time group or having them fall to insignificance. It turned out to be their greatest selling album in New Edition’s illustrious career.
New Edition was New Jack Swing before New Jack Swing was ever formed. Beginning in 1983 with their first single, “Candy Girl,” New Edition were implementing rap lyrics into their R&B bubblegum songs. It was only fitting that they would be tailor made for the New Jack Swing sound. Turning to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the producers who wrote and produced Janet Jackson’s incredible 1986 album “Control,” New Edition created an album that perfectly combined both their signature sound along with the New Jack Swing sound. With the addition of Gill, they were also able to sound more mature. The group’s members ranged from ages 19-22 at the time of the album’s release. It was apropos that Gill was at 22 the oldest member of the group, as his baritone voice was one of the main reasons the group sounded more mature than before. In my opinion, this version of New Edition: Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie Devoe and Gill were a greater version than the one that had Brown sans Gill.
“Heart Break” was almost entirely written and produced by Jam and Lewis. This album had everything a signature New Jack Swing would contain: infectious dance tracks and incredible ballads. The first single , “If It Isn’t Love,” was the perfect single to debut off the album. This song was the typical New Edition uptempo sound that their mostly female fan base was used to with Ralph on lead in his signature falsetto. The next single, “You’re Not My Kind of Girl,” would be the first song where Ralph, Ricky and Johnny would share the lead vocals. The song is about a man who’s physically attracted to a woman who’s very into him, yet he doesn’t take it further then friendship because she’s not his type. When this song first came out, I was 20 years old and living in New Orleans. There was a young woman who I took out on a date. She was very pretty, and although she was into me, the feeling was not mutual on my part. I’m only 5’6″, she was 5’10 and her being much taller than me was the main reason why I didn’t take it any further. She was highly offended and upset when I explained why our height differential was the reason why we could only be friends. The next single released off the album would be, in my opinion, the single greatest song ever done by New Edition.
Released on December 14, 1988, “Can You Stand the Rain?” was New Edition’s fourth R&B number one hit. It is also the song that finally transitioned them from teenage boy band to a full fledged adult group. The song is about a man who asks his woman will she be there for him through stormy times, just not the good times. Expertly written by Jam and Lewis, it is essentially a song detailing the turmoil and uncertainty New Edition was going through after Brown left and Gill entered the group. The music video shows the group reading a newspaper headline asking if it was over for New Edition. The group was wondering if the women in their lives would stand by their sides during this time of uncertainty. The song begins with the baritone vocals of Gill: “On a perfect day, I know that I can count on you. When that’s not possible. Tell me can you weather the storm?”
The song blends Ralph, Ricky and Johnny’s lead vocals perfectly. All three shine in this classic ballad. It is the signature song on their greatest album.
There are several other great songs on “Heart Break.” “I’m Comin’ Home,” is a ballad in which Ralph sings about how after a long tour he longs to come home to be with his lady. “N.E. Heart Break,” is an uptempo melody about groupies falling in love with the group while on tour and subsequently getting their hearts broken by the quintet. Finally, “Boys to Men,” is a song with Johnny on lead. It’s a coming to age song perfectly fitting what the album is essentially about: New Edition going from being boys to men. Four high school friends in Philadelphia who idolized the group named their group after this song. They would also enlist Bivins as their manager. That’s a story for another day.
The success of “Heart Break,” which went on to sell over four million albums, would have each member have spectacular success on their own individual debut albums. Each album was a New Jack Swing album. Each album delayed the release of another New Edition album. It wouldn’t be until 1996 when another New Edition would be released.
NEW EDITION-HEART BREAK
That’s The Way We’re Livin’ 4:03
If It Isn’t Love 5:10
N.E. Heart Break 5:45
You’re Not My Kind Of Girl 4:01
Can You Stand The Rain 4:58
I’m Comin’ Home 5:06
Boys To Men 4:11